Fitzgerald, Spenglerian
by Harry Salpeter

F. Scott Fitzgerald is a Nietzschean, F. Scott Fitzgerald is a Spenglerian, F. Scott Fitzgerald is in a state of cosmic despair. From within his slightly shuttered eyes, F. Scott Fitzgerald looks out upon a world which is doomed, in his sight, to destruction; from his unbearded lips comes conviction of America that is as final as the sentence is harsh. Summation of the evidence and conviction came in such a rush of words, in such a tumbling of phrase upon phrase that neither objection nor appeal was possible. It was a rush of words which only powerful feeling could dictate. Here was I interviewing the author of This Side of Paradise, the voice and embodiment of the jazz age, its product and its beneficiary, a popular novelist, a movie scenarist, a dweller in the gilded palaces, a master of servants, only to find F. Scott Fitzgerald, himself, shorn of these associations, forecasting doom, death and damnation to his generation, in the spirit, if not in the rhetoric, of your typical spittoon philosopher. In a pleasant corner of the Plaza tea garden he sounded like an intellectual Samson prophesying the crumbling of its marble columns. He looks like a candid, serious youth. His blue eyes, fair hair and clear-cut profile, no less than his reputation, give the lie to the mind of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I had caught Fitzgerald at the Plaza, his midway stop between Hollywood where, after much travail, he had completed a scenario for Constance Talmadge, and Brandywine Hundred, Del., an address which tickles him. There he will make his home for the next two years and there he will complete his next novel. This, he said, had been vaguely suggested by the Loeb-Leopold case and in the tragic moments of this novel will be mirrored some of the cosmic despair under the burden of which Fitzgerald manages, somehow, to maintain a resilient step.

And after this novel—on which he has already worked three years—is completed?

Why, what is there left to do? Go to pieces. Or write another novel. A writer is good only for writing and showing off. Then people find him out or he runs out of money and then he goes and writes another novel.

Fitzgerald has been “a hot Nietzschean” ever since he read Thus Spake Zarathustra. To-day, Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West is his “bed-book.” What have Nietzsche and Spengler in common? “Spengler stands on the shoulders of Nietzsche and Nietzsche on those of Goethe.” This civilization has nothing more to produce. “We threw up our fine types in the eighteenth century, when we had Beethoven and Goethe. The race had a mind then.” All that there is left to do is to go into a period of universal hibernation and begin all over again at the sheep- grazing stage. He said:

Spenglerism signals the death of this civilization. We are in a period paralleling Rome 185 years after Christ, Greece just before Alexander, the Mohammedan world about 1200. There is now no mind of the race, there is now no great old man of the tribe, there are no longer any feet to sit at. People have to stage sham battles in their own minds.

Mussolini, the last slap in the face of liberalism, is an omen for America. America is ready for an Alexander, a Trajan or a Constantine. The idea that we're the greatest people in the world because we have the most money in the world is ridiculous. Wait until this wave of prosperity is over! Wait ten or fifteen years! Wait until the next war on the Pacific, or against some European combination! Then we shall have to fight for our race and not under the leadership of a Calvin Coolidge.

The next fifteen years will show how much resistance there is in the American race. The only thing that can make it worth while to be an American is a life and death struggle, a national testing. After that it may be possible for a man to say 'I'm an American' as a man might say 'I'm a Frenchman' or 'I'm a German,' or, until recently, when the colonies made cowards of them all, 'I'm an Englishman.' The good American is the best in the world, as an individual. But taken collectively, he is a mass product without common sense or guts or dignity.

At present writing, this descendant of the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner” is not proud to be an American. “I have never said I was an American.” That descendant can say: “Better that an entire Division should have been wiped out than that Otto Braun should have been killed.” Braun, a German boy, at the age of nineteen or twenty, gave such evidences of genius that he was regarded as a Goethe in the budding. He was killed in the Argonne during the advance of the 77th Division.

Yet the man who is not proud to be an American is an American, if descent, on one side, from landholders on grant who came in 1630 means anything. On one side, said Fitzgerald, he comes from straight 1850 potato-famine Irish who prospered with the rising Middle West; and, on the other, from sometimes prosperous, sometimes indigent, but always proud, Maryland stock, who threw off, among other freaks, Philip Key, the manufacturer who made, without charge, all the buttons on the Continental uniforms, and Francis Scott Key.

We talked about the American in Paris, to which city Fitzgerald sometimes goes in quest of refuge from America.

The best of America drifts to Paris. The American in Paris is the best American. It is more fun for an intelligent person to live in an intelligent country. France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older—intelligence and good manners.

And why isn't it any fun to be an American?

Because it's too big to get your hands on. Because it's a woman's country. Because its very nice and its various local necessities have made it impossible for an American to have a real credo. After all, an American is condemned to saying “I don't like this.” He has never had time—and I mean time, the kind of inspired hush that people make for themselves in which to want to be or to do on the scale and with all the arrogant assumptions with which great races make great dreams. There has never been an American tragedy. There have only been great failures. That is why the story of Aaron Burr—let alone that of Jefferson Davis—opens up things that we who accept the United States as an established unit hardly dare to think about.

Fitzgerald is distrait. He can't call himself a liberal. Finding liberalism “mushy and ineffectual,” he is compelled to turn to the Mussolini-Ludendorff idea. He does and does not want Mussolini. “If you're against Mussolini you're for the cesspool that Italy was before him; if you're for Mussolini you're for Caesarism.” To call one's self a Communist is no solution either. Fitzgerald's hope for the Nation lies in the birth of a hero who will be of age when America's testing comes. It is possible that an American woman may be big enough of soul to bear and nurture such a hero; it is more likely that he will come out of the immigrant class, in the guise of an east-side newsboy. “His mother will be a good woman, in the sense that Otto Braun's mother was; she knew that he was a hero. But when this American hero is born one knows that he will not be brought up by the reading of liberal magazines, nor educated by women teachers.” The father, said Fitzgerald, doesn't matter. Behind Fitzgerald's pessimism there is mysticism.

Published in New York World newspaper (3 April 1927, 12M). This text scanned from F. Scott Fitzgerald on Authorship, ed. M. J. Bruccoli with J. S. Baughman (Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 1996).

Not illustrated.